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And What Can Really Be Controlled in Life?
23/6/12, on approach to Boston Logan


On approach to Boston | July 23, 2012
From the unpublished collection: New (Zealand) Enthusiasms

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And what can really be controlled in life?
One can try, for sure, to regulate the ins/outs of the body,
to choose when to sleep
and when to stay up,
but even those things
permit only slight
adjustments
by and large, you will sleep and wake
and
eat and defecate,
those are the undeniable facts of
existence.
Then you may ask
your self
to what extent
you are living your life
or is life living you?

Do you chose your interests, or do your interests chose you?

Even your choices,
what is their
true nature?

Do you chose because
it is an expression
of your essence?

Or do you create your
essence
through your choices.

In short,
are you who you are
because of who you
are
or
are
you who you are because
some “you” makes choices
about
who you are
and will be?

Of course,
this has all been thought and said before,
but I have never felt it in such a way.
I feel I have come a long way back to my self
only to ask
what choice I had in the matter.
Is life the unfolding of an inner essence;
the random events of chaos;
the consequence of choices of an enlightened idiot;
or a game you make up as you go along?
Does one choose who one is?
Is Life an act of creation, revelation, choice, or destiny?

In the end one can only do what one does.

PKD asked,

How can a man become other than what he is? 

By doing that which he would never do.

This creates a paradox –
for why would one do what one would never do?

I remember with a surprising eruption of emotion a man named Carl, a patient at UIC hospital. We talked about the things he would do to regain his strength, such as lifting weights – and then he asked me if I would come to his funeral. 

[My thoughts ran ahead, how would I know when he was dead? He had AIDS and a CD4 count of zero. How could I say I would attend his funeral, as a medical student, could I attend a patient’s funeral? What could I do? What should I say?]

I said, “yes,” what else could I humanly say?

[This has always bothered me, because I didn’t think I had any intention to go to Carl’s funeral. Sure there were the practicalities – I could tell him how to reach me, but how would he reach me if he was dead? It seemed a paradox, but on some level I felt dishonest to say “yes” but I could not possibly say “no,” not just because of social niceties – what do those matter when talking about death? But he and I were “having a moment,” we were two souls in a difficult situation – his infinitely more difficult than mine, but to me, mine was still kind of difficult]. 

I did nothing other than be who I was. Perhaps, though there is a different way to look at it, a different way of looking at truth and honesty. He and I were having a human conversation about hope and recovery and perhaps this allowed him to face the fact that he would soon die – and in that shift from life to death, he wanted to honor and continue that connection we had, he invited me to honor his death, to be connected with him and his journey. 

I recently heard the oft-repeated statement:

“We are born alone and we die alone.”

And, it struck me, for the first time, as completely untrue.

First off, we are not born in a test tube in an automated factory, but rather in quite close connection to another human being, generally surrounded by other human beings. 

Secondly, we can be physically, psychologically, perhaps even spiritually with others. At that moment, Carl and I were together in a moment in the flow of time – both of our lives were suddenly together. 

Is he still here with me in some way?

Was I there with him at his death?

Am I with him now in this moment?

It is only now.

It is only now,
some 20 years later that
what I thought was a lie,
“yes, I will come to your funeral,”
was perhaps the truth,
“yes, I will come to your funeral,
I am with you here,
now,
and I am saying
yes,”
now
and I am thinking of you,
remembering you,
now,
remembering your surprisingly intimate request
to attend your funeral.
Two people who hardly knew each other,
for some reason you asked me [who was mostly bumbling, uncertain, insecure, and repeatedly apologizing for causing you pain as I stuck needles into your veins and drained away small allotments of your precious, laboring blood] you asked me to your funeral and despite the panicky protestations of my thoughts,
my mouth said
“yes”

and now,
now,
I am descending on a plane, wearing a shirt and tie,
trying not to cry in public
as I begin to descend – that is to understand –
something that I still do not fully understand.
I am on my way to a wedding
and in some real way I am just now getting to your funeral.

Streaks of rain
across the window
like a vibrantly flat-lining EKG
race across the window
as we descend.

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